Trans candidate places 3rd in Amarillo mayoral race

Sandra Dunn

Dunn proud of her efforts, but says she won’t run again without more community support

JAMES BRIGHT | Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

Transgender mayoral candidate Sandra Dunn placed third in Amarillo’s mayoral election May 14 in an 11-candidate field that included an anti-gay pastor. Dunn said voter turnout was a major concern in the election, with fewer than 15,000 votes cast, according to the Amarillo Globe-News.

Mayor-elect Paul Harpole won the election with 77 percent of the vote. Roy McDowell came in second with 13 percent and Dunn in third with 3 percent.

“It seems traditionally most people do not realize that local votes are critical,” she said. “People think they just need to vote nationally and that’s just not the case. There have been several cases in the past where an election has been decided by just one vote.”

Dunn is not disappointed about her placement though. “Third out of 11 is nothing to be ashamed about,” she said.

Even though she lost the election, Dunn said her third-place finish should give her some weight in the City Council.

She also said she would not run again unless a committee was formed for her election and she received support both socially and financially.

“I’m not trying to beat my own drum, but I did this one all by myself,” Dunn said. “I put out several feelers nationwide asking for help and I received zero support.”

Dunn also said her work in politics is far from over. She has already been talking to Amarillo’s city manager about job discrimination and the restroom issue: “I’m going to approach the city about getting some things added to certain policies to take in consideration issues that affect transgender people.”

According to Dunn, transgender people using public restrooms has become a major concern among the city’s straight population. She said the idea of transgender people using family restrooms appealed to both groups.

“A family restroom is a single stall room,” Dunn said. “You can go in lock the door and no one will bother you. It will help us as transgender individuals and help parents who have two or three kids on an outing.”

Dunn said her primary goal politically is to push for legislation that would prevent all discrimination in the work place.

Dunn’s military service also stood out in this election. Denny Meyer, media director for Transgender American Veteran’s Association, said although endorsing candidates can get a bit tricky the group supports all members of the LGBT community who run for public office.

“It’s almost a victory to celebrate that she came in third in that district,” Meyer said. “It’s a positive sign in that field and means independent voters by large went for her.”

Monica Helms, president of TAVA, said the organization takes a lot of pride in people like Dunn and their efforts to make progress in the world, both politically and professionally. “She [Dunn] represents some of the best of our community, and some of the best of our transgender veterans,” Helms said.

If Dunn were to run again, Helms said she would have the support of TAVA in the future.

Transgender people have frequently been thrown under the bus, according to Meyer.

“They were completely left out of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’” he said. “It did not even occur to them [legislators] when they wrote [the bill] that transgender people existed.”

But, he said, Dunn’s campaign shows a significant gain in changing that. “It’s not just gay people getting elected, but transgender people advancing as well,” Meyer said. “It’s the final frontier.”

For now Dunn said she will continue counseling transgender people, spending time with her family and working on her master’s degree in psychology.

—  John Wright

Repent Amarillo’s David Grisham says attempt to burn Koran cost him job at nuclear plant

David Grisham

David Grisham, the whacko preacher who serves as director of Repent Amarillo, says his attempt to burn a Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 last year has cost him his job at Pantex, a nuclear power plant where he worked as a security guard for the last 25 years.

Repent Amarillo goes by the moniker “Army of God” and refers to itself as the “special forces of spiritual warfare.” The group launched a boycott of Houston after the city elected on openly gay mayor, Annise Parker. Repent Amarillo has also gained attention for a campaign to shut down a local swingers club, as well as a “warfare map” posted on its website identifying its enemies in Amarillo.

Grisham is currently running for mayor, and his campaign inspired transgender woman Sandra Dunn to enter the race.

MyHighPlains.com reports:

Grisham says on Wednesday, an official at Pantex Guards Union told him a termination letter was on its way. Grisham was placed on paid administrative leave December 23, 2010 after being placed on restricted duty for trying to burn the Quran in Sam Houston Park on September 11, 2010. The planned burning was stopped by a group of protesters. …

Grisham claims Pantex told him because he’s been gone from work more than 90 days, he no longer has a security clearance, so he no longer has a job. …

“They tried to find an administrative way by the stroke of a pen to take away my right to free speech,” says Grisham.

Really? Free speech? Last we checked, the First Amendment doesn’t include the right to work at a nuclear power plant.

—  John Wright

Dunn wants to be a voice for LGBT Amarillo

CHURCH TIES | Amarillo mayoral candidate Sandra Dunn is a member of the board at Metropolitan Community Church of Amarillo. (James Bright/Dallas Voice)

Transgender mayoral candidate says anti-gay pastor’s campaign prompted friends to encourage her to run, but she is running to make the city better for everyone

JAMES BRIGHT  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

The opportunity to run for public office appeals to people from all walks of life. Sometimes these races attract more candidates than anyone would expect.

One such election is the mayoral race in Amarillo. There are 11 candidates registered for the May election, and transgender graduate student Sandra Dunn is hoping to motivate the LGBT community of Amarillo to put her ahead of the rest.

Although Dunn hopes she will have the opportunity to help the citizens of Amarillo, it was a few of her friends who got her to run for the office. She said they approached her after outspoken anti-gay pastor David Grisham filed to run in the election.

But Dunn’s reasons for pursing the office have nothing to do with Grisham.

“It can’t be about David Grisham,” she said. “It’s time to step forward into the light, wake everyone up, shake some cages, let people know that there are transgenders here and they can do the job.”

Dunn said the financial sector is where she hopes to make most of her changes if elected mayor.

“There’s a lot of money being spent on ideas that could be spent on infrastructure,” she said.

Safety is another area Dunn hopes to secure if elected. She said there are arrow signs throughout the city, some of which require maintenance and some of which are dangerous to drivers.

“Some of these signs are blocking stop signs,” she said.

Although Dunn only recently expressed interest in holding office, she has been involved in Amarillo politics for some time as a business owner. A retired Army reservist, holding the rank of Sgt. 1st Class, Dunn opened a military surplus store that took up about a city block. Unfortunately tragedy struck when Dunn’s business partner was beaten to death on July 29, which led to the closure of the store.

“We were building toward having a business we could run when we retired,” she said.

Dunn relied on her partner, and due to his death could not afford to keep the store open. The ripples of this tragedy have reached so far as to affect Dunn’s filing for the election.

Although she planned to transition in both name and gender early in the winter of 2010, the death of her partner made it impossible to go through with those plans. Due to the fact that she was unable to obtain a legal name change prior to the filing date of the election, Dunn was forced to register as F.E. (SandraDunn) Dunaway, using her birth name on the ballot and her name of choice as a nickname.

Dunn said her name came from an eclectic mix of influences. Dunn came from a family member for whom she has great respect, but Sandra came from a more unorthodox place.

“When I was younger I knew a bunch of girls named Sandra and they were always fun, so I went with that,” she said.

Later, Dunn and a few of her friends got together and decided she needed a middle name. After a short brainstorm, they settled on Faye — and Sandra Faye Dunn was officially born.

Despite the tragedy that befell Dunn over the past year, she has managed to maintain a stellar relationship with her family. She was married to the same woman for 16 years and is close with her kids, and Dunn said her daughter has thoroughly enjoyed her run for office.

“She has had the opportunity to do ‘Trans 101’ many times,” she said.

Although Dunn’s 25-year-old son lives in a different city, she said he is just as supportive when it comes to her campaign.

“He recognizes it’s my life and he stands beside me,” she said.

If Dunn is elected, she said the LGBT community would know they have voice that’s coming from them. She said there is still a lot of discrimination and she would like to work to combat how differences are handled in the city of Amarillo.

“You experience this mostly when applying for a job,” she said. “It’s almost like your IQ has dropped.”

Dunn said she is not trying to change the attitude of citizens of Amarillo, but will work to find a peaceful solution to their differences.

“Everyone is entitled to their beliefs,” she said. “What I’m after is to get people to open up their minds and see what these people are about. Be upfront with your beliefs, but don’t be hateful.”

Dunn said Grisham’s campaign and his group Repent Amarillo run off negative imagery and messaging. Although she has had only one encounter with him and has not personally heard him disparage her, Dunn said Grisham has poured out his opinions on his Facebook page.

“He spews a lot of hate and is very disrespectful,” she said.

Grisham isn’t alone with as far as being affiliated with a church. Dunn serves on the board of the Metropolitan Community Church of Amarillo as the secretary. She said she attends 98 percent of the church functions and enjoys the diversity in the congregation. “We have straight people who come here too,” she said.

Regardless of what happens in May, it is really a win-win situation for Dunn who will complete her masters degree in psychology online from the University of the Rockies in Colorado. She said if she doesn’t win she will most likely not run again in two years, but instead spend her time counseling transgender people like herself.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright